Pony Express rides again
Dressed in jeans, a red shirt and dark brown cowboy hat, Gardnerville resident Dave Thomas stood vigil before the Genoa Courthouse Museum Wednesday with his horse, a bay named Rebel.
Part of the annual re-enactment of the Pony Express ride from California to Missouri, he squinted into the sun, watching for the rider he would replace.
About 50 moms, dads, kids and grandparents gathered under the shade of the huge locust trees in front of the museum. The cameras clicked, children moved closer to pet Rebel and dogs panted at their owner’s feet in the noonday sun.
As the sound of hoof beats drew near, Rebel offered a shrill whinny by way of greeting. The mochilla, a special saddle-pack carrying 1,100 special commemorative letters, was exchanged amid the milling animals and Thomas was off.
“This is living history,” said rider Jill Andrews with a smile as she stepped down from her horse. “We do this the same way they did it over 100 years ago. The price of postage hasn’t changed, but the horses are probably better and some of the riders a little more shapely.”
All riders are members of the National Pony Express Association and it wasn’t until 1990 that women were allowed to participate.
Andrews wasn’t finished riding. She carried the mail again at about 1:30 this morning east of Fallon, the mail handed off to her by her 17-year-old daughter, Eryn.
“This is a great way to get out and enjoy history and horses,” Jill Andrews said. “Last year, I rode at the top of Simpson Pass at sunset. It doesn’t get any better.”
Recreated by the National Pony Express Association, the commemorative ride is scheduled every year in June and riders travel night and day to complete the 1,996-mile trek in 10 days.
Started by the Missouri freighting firm of Russell, Majors and Waddell, the Pony Express was a dramatic attempt to capture a proposed mail contract, providing 10-day service between the terminal points.
Forty riders were in the saddle in each direction at any time and the operation included 190 stations and 400 station keepers. Riders were paid $25 a week and rode 10-12 miles before changing horses. Each rider completed 75 miles before being relieved.
Completion of the transcontinental telegraph in October 1861 signaled the death of the company just 18 months after its inception. About $400,000 in debt, Russell, Majors and Waddell declared bankruptcy.
Nevertheless, the effort proved the central route through the country could be traveled year around. The Pony Express was a critical communication link during its short history and it is remembered as one of the enduring symbols of the American frontier.